Bobby Seale has mellowed, everybody says. "That's because I'm not going around saying, 'Off the pig.' You got to meet the climate of the times, man. For one thing, there is no J. Edgar Hoover out there. Or John Mitchell. Or Mayor Daley, God bless his racist soul. Hell, yes, I'm still a revolutionary. But that don't mean I'm going down the street carrying guns."
The firebrand symbol of '60s Black Power is 41 now. Though his body is still taut and explosive-looking, the face is softer these day, fuller, with creases under the dark, hooded eyes and a certain tiredness - maybe sadness - inside them. The hair that used to ring his jaw in a malevolent-looking Fu Manchu is trimmed to a mustache.
Sitting at a friend's kitchen table in Northwest, wearing cranberry double-knits, sipping a can of Miller, Bobby Seale could be a claims adjuster for Allstate. Almost anything, in fact, save what he was: chairman and co-founder of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.
The Black Panthers. Oakland, Calif., 1966. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seal. Berets and black leather jackets. Upraised fists. Vigilante patrols. The takeover of the visitors gallery at the Sacramento statehouse.
And later: a predawn police raid at Fred Hampton's Chicago apartment (two slain, four wounded). The conspiracy trial of the Chicago 7. Judge Julius Hoffman . . .
In the nearly eight years since he sat bound and gagged in a Chicago courtroom, eyes spitting defiance at Judge Hoffman, Bobby Seale has faced a murder trial in New Heven, helped negotiate peace at Attica, run for office in California, fallen out with the Black Panthers (exactly why is still an inner-circle mystery), and dropped from sight to write his autobiography - and oddly moving and lucid book titled "A Lonely Rage." Now, like any good capitalist, he is out promoting it.
"You can go to the whitest, most racist community in America and they still know who the . . . . Bobby Seale is," he says, unable to stop a grin. "I figured that was a good starting base."
Seale says James Baldwin, his literary hero, provided the book's title. The two had first met the day of Martin Luther King's funeral in Atlanta, in Marlon Brando's hotel suite. Seale had come ambivalently, having okayed King's being called a "bootlicker" in Panther newspapers.
"James said, "Now Bobby, what are you trying to say in this book? and I said, 'I'm trying to say it ain't no sin to have a lonely rage.' Well, there's your title, he said." He says he got a $25,000 advance to write the book." "I had a $35,000 offer from another publisher, but they wanted it cowritten. This one's all mine."
He admits the book has not been very well received by activist blacks. "They wanted more the tissue of political events Well, it wasn't supposed to be that. It supposed to be autobiography."
It is Seale's story to be sure - from the dirt poor Texas boyhood to the bad conduct discharge from the Air Force. From a teen-age identification with the American Indian ("We were some kinda nigger macho Tarzans - with buckskin and Bowie knives and everything") to trying to make it later as a jazz drummer and stand-up comic.
If there is one psychological thread running through Bobby Seale's story, it is his murderous and nearly life-long rebellion against a violent, move-about father who was forever exploiting his family and beating up on his elder son. One time, Bobby aimed to kill him.
If there is one psychological thread running through Bobby Seale's story, it is his murderous and nearly lifelong rebellion against a violent, move-about father who was forever exploiting his family and beating up on his elder son. One time, Bobby aimed to kill him.
"We were all in the living room - my brother John, who was home from the Air Force, my sister Betty, Mama. George was sitting on this old, worn, maroon couch and he kept getting on me till I'm in a killing rage. I ran into the kitchen rattling through drawers, looking for Mama's wooden-handled butcher knife. I had to have her knife, you see. I think what had piled up in my head all this time was a horrible fear my father was one day going to hurt my mother. Anyway, I found it, faced George, and said, 'Okay, you nasty nigger mother - , I'm going to cut your guts out.'"
He is off the chair, standing in the center of the room, his eyes large as walnuts. The voice, calm a moment ago, is high and racing.
"And that's when we all started crying. My brother and Betty and Mama. Even George. I just kept standing there, shaking, but aiming to do it, let him and the whole damn world know how much I hated him. But when I was those tears rolling down his face, I couldn't hold back my own. I started bawling and said, I've always loved you. I'm sorry. You used to be everything to me. I'm sorry, Daddy.' He walked off into the living room saying, 'Yeah, I'm sorry, too.'"
Bobby Seale contends his simmering rebellion against his father is at the root of his becoming a revolutionary. "I don't stay it's absolute. But I say it's highly possible that if I hadn't been a victim of maladaptive repressive behavior at home, I might have become a totally different adult. Look, man: I was once studying to be an architectural draftsman. I had started to college in engineering. In high school I used to get A's on the tiniest details."
He is comfortable with such terms as "maladaptive repressive behavior." He will tell you all about his "superego" now, and how he controls it. He learned this on his own: "My mind is my own laboratory." Not long ago Seale formed Homicide Prevention, Inc., an organization he says helps deal with the "high rate of conflict-motivated homicides."
"See, nearly two-thirds of all murders in this country are conflict-motivated. They usually arise from an irresolvable conflict between two individuals, maybe a husband beating his wife, maybe a white cop trying to pin a rap on a black. Parents raise their children with too much repressed anger."
How is his relationship with his father now 3/8 "It's a whole new day. Hell, that old guy has learned a lot. And I've learned a lot. We get along fine. He calls me up every once in a while to get a little money."
Even his feelings toward Judge Hoffman have softened. (In his book Seale describes a "screwed-up old face" that "peered down through his round metal-rim glasses.") "Him? Oh, I imagine he's pretty much like he was. But I don't hold a grudge. That's over."
Seale says he doesn't see his old comrades much anymore. "I recognize now that one of my problems was that I always had a psychological-friend-dependency. It was that way with Huey. I'm on my own now." Besides, he says, the Panthers, as eveybody knows, are a shadow of their former selves - down from 22 chapters and several thousand members in 1969 to probably less than 100 active members in just two chapters today, one in North Carolina, the other in Oakland, where the party began.
That is true. It is also true that the Black panthers are far from the militant organization they once were. As party spokesman David G. DuBois said a few years ago, the emphasis has changed from the old "by any means necessary" to the new "by any means available." In the '70s the party regrouped under Elaine Brown, one of the original members and a former minister of information. Under her the Panthers established a health clinic, a free food program and the private Oakland Community School.
Seale seems to have amazing recall of events in his life; he can even remember exact conversations, he says.
"It all started when I was in the joint at Greystone prison in California. We'd be in 24-hour lockup and not come out for three days, and then just to shower and shave and go back in. Half the guys in there were in mania states, banging their heads against the bars, screaming at the bulls. Man, I wanted out of there so bad. I'd lie in my bunk wide awake. That's when I got the idea of 'escape dreams.' I trained my mind to concentrate so hard I could be gone from that cell just remembering things. Like how far it was from Jasper to San Antonio. Or what my mama used to say about the new house we were going to get. Or all the plans Huey and I had in the beginning. By the time I was ready to write the book, I had it all remembered."
In 1973 Seale ran for mayor of Oakland as a Democrat. He conducted a hard well-financed campaign and received 44,000 votes to the incumbent's 77,000. "We were dead serious," he says. 'If I should move one grain of sand from one spot to another, the world will never be the same.' We made our point."
Nowadays, Seale says, he likes to barbecue, play with his two sons (they apparently don't live with him, and he is vague about his marital situation) and watch his man, Kenny Stabler, throw passes for the Oakland Raiders. He has pretty much left the Bay Area behind, he says. Sometimes he stays with his aunt in Los Angeles; he's crashing these days in White Plains, N. Y. It sounds temporary; also vague.
When he speaks on college campuses, he is always being asked why he's now working within the system, he says. "And I answer, "But I was always working within the system - you just gotta understand the total system.'"
And this suddenly lights a bulb.
"You know, I was talking to Jerry Rubin and he said, 'Bobby, I 'spect what'll happen is that all of us - you and Huey and Abbie and Tom Hayden, and me - will keep on raising trouble, just like we always have. Then oneday we'll all end up in the old folks home, bein' the meanest, nastiest senior citizens anybody ever saw.'"